Growing Up

Rebel junior Defensive End Carlos Thompson came to Ole Miss highly-touted and with a lot of promise three years ago, but it took him some time to realize his potential, a journey he is still on.

If there's one thing one can learn when closely associated with an athletic program dealing with 120, or more, young men, it's that not all develop at the same pace.

Ole Miss redshirt junior Defensive End Carlos Thompson is a prime example of that.

Carlos came to Ole Miss after a career at Hollandale-Simmons HS in Hollandale, MS, with a pocketful of accolades and credentials, including Prep All-American, Dandy Dozen and All-State status.

Much in the mold of this year's highly-recruited freshmen, it was anticipated Carlos would make an immediate impact, but after seeing limited action in seven games as a true freshman, his career seemed to go backwards.

Coming from a structured, disciplined background into a somewhat undisciplined environment with a lot of freedom, Thompson just wasn't making strides in the right direction, on and off the field.

As Carlos was set to enter his junior season, so entered Coach Hugh Freeze as the Rebel mentor. Freeze inherited a team that needed mentoring, fathering and discipline, which he and his staff provided.

Stuck at 235 pounds and headed nowhere, Carlos, to put it bluntly, had some growing up to do.

Freeze made the decision, with the blessing of Carlos' parents, to redshirt the athletic Thompson during the 2012 season.

Carlos, at first, didn't like the idea, but in time realized it was best for him.

"The redshirt helped me out a lot. Not only physically, but in giving me time to figure out what I wanted to do in life in general," said Carlos. "It was a tough thing to do, but it was a great decision and I was glad I did it."

Thompson worked hard his redshirt year to gain some weight - he's now right around 250 pounds - and to learn, not only more about football but in coping with day-to-day life.

He came out on the other end as a more solid individual, on and off the field.

That growing up was exhibited in the Rebs' season opener against Vanderbilt when he registered four tackles and half a QB sack - the Rebs only had one with Carlos and DT Issac Gross combining for it - while backing up C.J. Johnson, but getting substantial snaps.

Carlos Thompson
File Photo

"I played OK," he assessed. "I thought my pass rush was pretty good at times, but I need to keep working on my run defense. My adrenaline was pumping - I was amped up. I mean, it had been nearly two years since I had played and I felt I was finally ready to show what I can do."

Ovearll, Carlos felt the Reb defense still has a lot to prove, but a win over Vandy was a good starting point.

"We started slowly. I think it was about getting in a groove in the first game," he noted. "But then we had a good second half until we made some critical mistakes at the end.

"The good thing is that everything we did is correctable. We weren't overpowered or anything like that, we just made mistakes, mistakes we can fix."

While some bemoaned the lack of pressure from the Rebs' four-man rush, Carlos said the DL didn't feel that way overall.

"There is a lot of room for improvement, no doubt about that, but I thought we did pretty good most of the time against a veteran and very good offensive line," he continued. "We have to get better each week and keep building, but the way we started was not bad and, as I said, it's all correctable."

From a personal standpoint, Thompson now gets it - you can always get better.

Part of Carlos' growing up process is that he now knows his maturation as a football player is always ongoing and a constant search for perfection that one rarely reaches, but continually strives for.

"It took me some time to realize that you can always get better and being your own worst critic is how the great ones keep getting better," he stated. "I have to keep working on everything - hand placement, stance, get-off - everything. You are never perfect, you can only try to be."

Carlos appreciates his mentors now - DL Coach Chris Kiffin, GA Demetrius Covington and volunteer Coach Derrick Burgess.

"I get something that can help me from all three of them every day," Carlos noted. "Coach Burgess is hard on me, but I've grown up enough to understand that he's trying to help me get better. I have learned to take the criticism in a constructive way.

"He has played the game on the highest level. If he tells me this is how you do it, I trust that and take it to heart."

That type of hard coaching is not something Carlos would have adhered to in his first couple of years as a Rebel. It would have driven him in a shell.

All a part of the maturation process.

In the game, the Rebels lost one of their leaders - OLB Denzel Nkemdiche - for 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Carlos said it's a big loss, but the team cannot dwell on that.

"Denzel is a big part of our defense and this program, but the way it works is that someone has to step up and take up the slack and I believe that will happen," said Thompson. "I don't think we will miss a beat. I think Bird (Serderius Bryant) and Keith (Lewis) will be just fine in his place."

The "old" Carlos would not have responded that way, but the "new" Carlos gets it.

Growing up.

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